Tom Stokes, MPP
Member of the DA Caucus in the KZN Legislature
The sinking of the Titanic is a story of tragic complacency and the inability to change course quickly enough – a wonderful comparative to our current government. The Titanic didn’t crash into the iceberg because it was a stormy night and they didn’t see the iceberg approaching. It crashed because they didn’t take heed of the warnings of imminent danger, and once they acknowledged the danger, were unable to turn the ship away from the danger before them.
Here in this House, month after month, opposition members have warned of the dangers of poor education, poor health services, desperately poor municipal management, misuse of funds etc. To do justice to certain members of the ruling party, these issues have been acknowledged and some worthwhile and effective initiatives have been undertaken. But the fact remains that as a whole, the ship hasn’t turned fast enough and four years, which should have been used to address our challenges with the revolutionary zeal needed, have been wasted.
And the Treasury is partly to blame.
There are three aspects to the mission statement of the Treasury:
- To ensure equitable resource allocation to departments
- To monitor government expenditure and revenue
- To instill prudential management and good governance
The first is a political mandate and the latter two are audit-related.
As MPL’s we have the dual role of oversight of the use of taxpayers’ money as well as the political input on the allocation of funds against programmes.
The DA has little complaint about the way the Treasury conducts its audit functions, and we have consistently praised MEC Cronje on her competence and that of her Department.
It is with the first aspect, “the equitable resource allocation” that we have a problem. The fact exists that this aspect is carried out without any input from this House. In other words, the prime political function is the exclusive purview of the treasury and executive, without multi-party political interrogation. All we do is debate the divisions within department budgets after the total divisions of revenue has already been done.
Both Hon. Ntombela and Hon. Scott in the General Budget Debate have raised issues that for the past four years have been driven by DA members: the inadequate funding allocation to education and health, and the questionable efficiencies of our public entities. But they both also turn away from discussing the options open to this House and instead turn to an external body to provide solutions. The lack of an in-House forum to examine political solutions to these kinds of financial flaws is problematic.
This is the same debate that took part at the ANC’s Polokwane conference and despite Trevor Manuel’s resistance, the conference decided to establish a parliamentary Allocation of Funds Committee at National level to augment the treasury committee.
Madame Speaker – and I refer to you here particularly, the opportunity to executive and treasury decision on allocation of funds does not exist at present, and we implore you to address this blind spot in our legislative structure.
The DA does not believe we have the best spread of money across departments. Consequently, we do not believe that the political machinery designed to address the challenges of our Province is inadequate. We seem to be caught in a spending paradigm determined by previous years’ spending patterns and a ponderous imbedded organogram. Unfortunately this set-up drives our political ship inexorably towards the icebergs of unemployment, poverty, dysfunctional schools and municipalities and the rest of the challenges endlessly delineated in our speeches.
The DA is, however, encouraged that the NDP has at last gained general acceptance in the ruling party. It is a good document and provides a clear blueprint for the path ahead. What we lack though in this House, under the Treasury debate, is the space to debate the allocation of funds to departments in a structure similar to the National Allocation of Funds Committee. It is here that our debates should centre, where we measure the alignment of our proposed programmes to the NDP and the PDP and the adequacy of allocated funding, rather than the audit details of budget line items.